I admit it.
I was one of the people who majorly overestimated the progress of our country. While I recognized that there was a chance (maybe even a decent one), that Donald Trump could win the presidential election, I was hopeful that at the end when it counted the most, Americans would stand against racism, sexism, and xenophobia. I held onto the belief that Trump had showed more than enough of himself for us to believe exactly who he is. But on election night, as I watched the map of America paint itself red, I knew that a new day was dawning. One that many, including me, dismissed as likely never to happen.
But it did.
Donald J. Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States. A billionaire businessman and reality television show host without an iota of political experience would now lead our country. Unable to sleep, I laid in bed on election night suspended somewhere between utter shock and disbelief. America had spoken. And I, as many around the world, heard the message loudly and clearly. Our historic near decade of leadership by an exemplary African-American man would end on a bitter note of racial intolerance, misogyny, and anti-immigrant rhetoric. A qualified woman with extraordinary political experience and capability was rejected (most shockingly, by a significant number of other white women) for a man who has time and again demonstrated his disrespect, disregard, and objectification of them. Clearly, maintaining privilege trumped the debunking of sexism.
Of course, racism and sexism are not new phenomena. Both have always existed. And as a black woman, I have been well acquainted with both throughout much of my life. But racism and sexism in this country has reached such a furious level that people proudly voted for a man whose entire campaign was propelled by bigotry and divisiveness. I foolishly thought this country, even with its many challenges, had come farther than that. I thought we were better than that.
I was wrong.
The morning after the election, shock waves reverberated throughout the streets of New York and the country. People were in mourning. Something that many of us thought was at best a remote possibility had become a sobering reality. And all I could think about was who was to blame–Trump voters, third party voters, non-voters (especially those of color). My contempt was visceral. The problem for me was that people with whom I share relationships fell in each of those categories. And since, I have grappled with the complexity of maintaining genuine relationships with people whose politics are vastly different than mine.
My initial instinct was to continue these relationships superficially or even sever them. I could see no way to enjoy a substantial relationship with anyone who could support a person with the ideologies of Donald Trump, waste a vote on a third-party candidate who could not possibly win, or, even worse, a person who did not vote at all in an election that had enormous consequences especially for people of color. The reason we are so impassioned about politics is because they are deeply intertwined with our belief systems and who we are as people. I simply could not conceive of sharing a meaningful relationship with anyone whose politics stood in direct opposition to mine.
As my feelings of shock over the election shifted to opposed resignation, I recognized they were rooted in fear and anger. Fear of what will happen to this country that already struggles with and makes frustratingly slow progress on the many disparities that burden us. And anger at anyone who played an active or inactive role in allowing this tragedy to happen.
But I had to check myself. Who was I to take a ‘my way or the highway’ attitude about someone else’s politics? Even if I am profoundly confused by or disagree with the political views of people with whom I share relationships, it is their right to be as supportive of Trump or as apathetic towards our system of government as they choose. Just as I have the right not to be.
So where do we go from here with people who are not likeminded during this politically and emotionally charged time? We continue to hold those who are most important to us closely even if their politics are not like ours. Hate wins if we allow differences to divide us. Likely, those whom we hold dearest share our politics anyway. But in those instances where they do not, we meet them as far as we are able. And when we reach that fork in the road where our differences threaten to separate us, we seek to be heard with intention and respect. We seek to educate them about perspectives never considered or experiences never shared. We hope our common interest in decency and humanity will prevail and push us forward.
But there will be people with whom our fundamental beliefs simply do not align. With some of those folks, out of love, respect, or commitment, we will agree to disagree and allow our mutual silence to shield us from irreparable conflict. And then there will be those more difficult times when our silence makes us feel like complicit bystanders. Or when the opinions of others not only differ, but offend. Their words, social media posts, and demonstrated lives show exactly who they are. And we should believe them–each and every time.
Our rejection of some people’s ideologies, sadly, may also mean our rejection of some relationships. And while unfortunate, sometimes the magnitude of our beliefs is far beyond any compromise or sacrifice. Because as often quoted, and as proven by the Donald Trump era in which all must now live, if we stand for nothing, we will absolutely fall for anything.